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On Thursday, August 19, notorious porn site OnlyFans sent out shockwaves when they released a statement announcing they would prohibit “sexually explicit content.” Days later, they shocked the world again when they announced they had reversed their decision.
The online subscription platform, which allows creators to earn money directly from users who subscribe to their original content, made $1.3 billion in 2020 alone and boasts 130 million subscribers. And while porn isn’t technically the only thing sold on OnlyFans, the site has become synonymous with it because that’s essentially what it was built on.
Their decision to ban sexually explicit content was based on their need to comply with the requests of crucial banking partners and payout providers. It appears the decision’s reversal was also based on that factor. In a statement, OnlyFans shared “We have secured assurances necessary to support our diverse creator community and have suspended the planned October 1 policy change.”
OnlyFans’ original move to block explicit content sparked outrage in the pro-porn community, especially since OnlyFans has been perceived as a “safe” place for people to sell pornographic content of themselves, with some labelling it as a great place for “ethical porn.”
Moderators for the site told the BBC that they have found content that features spycams, bestiality with dogs, guns, knives, drugs, and probable incest.
This is in contrast to a site like Pornhub, whose image has been irreparably tarnished by the real cases of child sexual abuse, sex trafficking, and revenge porn that have been featured on the site. After the Traffickinghub movement exposed Pornhub’s complicity in hosting and profiting from these illegal videos, they deleted 80% of their content—about 10 millions videos.
But is OnlyFans actually a safe platform? It only takes a little bit of digging to show that the site is yet another pornographic haven for sex crimes.
In May, BBC News revealed the site was failing to prevent those under 18 from selling and appearing in explicit videos. In one instance, a 14-year-old used her grandmother’s passport to create an account, something a human moderator should have easily been able to catch. And days ago, BBC News released an exposé of OnlyFans in which leaked documents reveal how the platform had a lenient stance toward accounts that posted illegal content, allowing the offending accounts to simply be given warnings. Accounts with more subscribers were to be granted additional warnings, because, according to one moderator, “money is the priority.”
Moderators for the site told the BBC that they have found content that features spycams, bestiality with dogs, guns, knives, drugs, and probable incest. They also revealed that the advertising of sex for sale is common among low earners on the site.
The article also featured testimony by key professionals. Joseph Scaramucci, a Texas-based detective, says he has recently worked on cases targeting human trafficking in which OnlyFans videos featured women displaying clear signs that they were being controlled by someone else.
US Homeland Security special agent Austin Berrier, who specializes in investigating child exploitation online, estimates he finds 20-30 child abuse images a week which he says have clearly originated on OnlyFans. These include live streamed videos in which children are being told what to do. Just this month, over 100 members of Congress called for an investigation into OnlyFans for hosting child sexual abuse material.
The fact that this kind of content is prevalent on OnlyFans isn’t surprising when you consider that while content creators must verify their age, other people appearing in their videos don’t have to. Policies like this could make it easy for an adult trafficker to profit off videos of a child.
One young person sent this message to OnlyFans: “When I was 15 years old I was blackmailed into taking mass amounts of child porn and it seems for some reason [you’re] allowing people to use my images and videos to earn money. I do not understand why people don’t have to show proof of who they are?… this is absolutely disgusting…”
Why would a company who makes billions off sexually explicit content suddenly cut off their primary source of earnings?
Then, there’s OnlyFans’ questionable recruitment tactics. The platform incentivizes its creators to entice others to create accounts, offering them 5% of the referred creators earnings. This means impressionable young 18-year-old girls could create a fully legal account selling porn of themselves and pressure their other young friends to join so they can make money off porn of their friends too. The platform basically incentivizes digital pimping.
But perhaps the most compelling proof that OnlyFans has a major problem with unethical and criminal content is their own drastic action. Why would a company who makes billions off sexually explicit content suddenly cut off their primary source of earnings?
In Pornhub’s case, their mass deletion of 80% of their content only came after millions signed a petition calling for them to be shut down. OnlyFans has received no such attention.
What they have felt is pressure from their banking partners and payout providers to adhere to reasonable guidelines pertaining to explicit content. For example, after Mastercard was lobbied by Exodus Cry and other allied organizations, fighting to hold Pornhub accountable, Mastercard released new mandates requiring age and identity verification for those depicted in pornographic content.
Their mandates also included a content review process before publication, a complaint resolution process that addresses illegal or non-consensual content within seven days, and an appeals process allowing for any person depicted to request their content be removed.
These are not outlandish requests, we’re talking about verifying age and consent, and filtering out illegal content. These are straightforward standards set in place to avoid another human rights catastrophe, like the one Pornhub created. But OnlyFans knew enough about its content to realize complying with these basic mandates might cripple its profitability. Even though the decision was reversed, it still speaks volumes about many of the videos and images the platform has been built upon.
Now that OnlyFans has “secured assurances” enabling them to continue profiting off sexually explicit content, it remains to be seen whether the platform will make imperative changes to comply with payment processors like Mastercard. In its current state, the site is anything but safe.
If OnlyFans truly wants to grow a legitimate business it needs to require thoroughly vetted age and consent verification for all who are featured on the site, as well as age verification for all its users, regardless of how this may cut into its profits. If it doesn’t, it may end up going the way of Pornhub.
Join the movement to Protect Children Not Porn! Click below and sign the petition calling for required age verification, with ID, on all sites hosting porn.